Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the October 27,
2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: New Jersey Repertory Company
Although the scene appears to be a rather non-descript bedroom, the
action in Lee Blessing’s new play "Whores" actually takes place in the
hallucinating mind of Raoul de Raoul (Jonathan Cantor), a retired
general of an unnamed Central American country now living in Florida,
where he has been granted amnesty from prosecution on charges of
committing atrocities. Married with children, Raoul’s head is swirling
with fantastical images and horrific memories, notably the rape and
murder of three nuns and a lay worker by his death squad. Presented as
a series of outrageously perverse sexual encounters, punctuated by his
self-incriminating anxieties, denials and delusions, the episodes
would presumably have us see the short-circuiting connections that
Raoul is making between sexual prowess and political power.
Blessing, whose plays "A Walk in the Woods," "Thief River," and
"Cobb," had a foothold on reality, takes a reckless plunge into the
abstract world of tragic-comedy made famous by Ionesco. The issue that
Blessing seems to be considering is the moral depravity and ethical
disintegration of leaders who have been mistakenly led to believe
themselves in authority, but who are in actuality manipulated as pawns
by a more insidious and powerful outside authority. As that
perspective is clear enough, what is unclear is the cloudy manner and
choppy style that Blessing uses to dramatize it.
Despite the manic motor-mouthed performances by four fine actors and
the zany direction by John Pietrowski, "Whores" plays out like an
extended and extremely outre skit. Despite its skewed psychological
path, the play doesn’t appear to arc towards either a dramatic or
The play begins, however, with an amusing, if tasteless, bit of
titillation as Raoul is being scolded by Carmencita (Corinne Edgerly),
a dominatrix-type director, who is losing patience with him and his
amateurish sexual performance with a nun during the making of a porno
Following is a scene in which the unnerved and confounded Raoul dances
with a French woman who talks of being raped and loving it.
Subsequently he is reminded of his murders and tortures by his wife
(also played by Edgerly), who says, "Thank God, this is America and
you can’t be tried as a criminal."
Three women, who go by the names of Josette (Carol Todd), Angelique
(Lily Mercer) and Miou-Miou (Lea Eckert), appear as the murdered nuns
who relive the day of their deaths; as three French whores who sit
with plucked chickens on their laps listening to a 1980 radio
broadcast given by Archbishop Romero of El Salvador; as three lawyers
who read a deposition and respond to Raoul’s claims that he is being
threatened by both the left and right. Two of them also appear as
Raoul’s petulant children. Somewhere in this duck soup of a play is
the insinuation that Raoul has already been the subject of a
movie-of-the-week – "Raoul de Raoul, Savior of Central America." Amid
recounting mass murders and cover-ups, he dances a tango with
Angelique, who suggests to him that "You can’t dance on someone’s
grave unless you can dance."
What passes for humor lands mostly with a thud, particularly Edgerly’s
appearance as Mary, Mother of God, and Raoul’s fantasy of himself as a
blatantly masturbating and joke-less standup comic. But his
serio-satiric speech in full military getup condemning the imposed
American infrastructure, the FBI, the CIA, and their denial of
complicity in his failed and corrupt regime, packs a punch. It is
certainly fascinating to consider, as Blessing does, the circumstances
that surround a foreign leader suspected of atrocities who finds
asylum in America. However, the play, which was apparently inspired by
the true story of the murder of three American nuns and a Catholic lay
worker in El Salvador, seems unnecessarily fragmented and circuitous
and seriously lost in tasteless charades and obscenities.
A two-act version of "Whores" had its premiere in 2003 at the
Contemporary American Theater Festival in West Virginia. This new
one-act version is a co-production of New Jersey Repertory Company and
Playwrights Theater of New Jersey in Madison (where it will play from
February 3 to 20, 2005).
– Simon Saltzman
Whores, through November 14, New Jersey Repertory Company, 179
Broadway, Long Branch. Tickets: 732-229-3166 or www.njrep.org;
Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2
p.m. Tickets $30.
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